5 reasons you’re unhappy at work


1) You’re sick and tired. It’s a fact that many people just can’t seem to accept: Human beings have human bodies, bodies which have basic needs. And if you don’t meet those needs, you’ll suffer your body’s wrath. Sufficient sleep, a healthy diet, and ample physical activity are must-haves, not nice-to-haves. If you want your brain to work well – including thinking clearly and generating positive emotions – you have to treat your whole body well. If you’re unhappy in any realm of your life, first make sure you have the basics in check.

2) You don’t make an effort to belong. Another messy human need that gets the shaft at the office: Friends! We need relationships. There is a reason why “I have a best friend at work” is one of the survey items most strongly related to engagement levels. They help us deal with stress, they make us feel like what we are doing matters, and they just make work fun. Sadly, though, these days we often neglect our work relationships. We may feel like we are having our social needs met sufficiently elsewhere, or fear that forming loyalties with colleagues will make it harder if we leave. But if you are miserable in your work, you may find you are really simply lonely.

3) You’ve forgotten your purpose. When we are young and first embark on our careers, people don’t ask us much about why we are choosing the path we are on. We are driven by a single purpose – to launch ourselves into adulthood! That is our purpose. To get a real-live adult job with an honest-to-God paycheck that allows us to live independently. But that impetus can only propel us along so far. As time goes on, we need to continually ask ourselves why we do what we do. Purpose isn’t a thing “out there” – each of us has to define it for ourselves. Work devoid of meaning quickly turns into drudgery.

4) You can’t say no. One nice thing about having a clear purpose is that it makes it easier to set and defend priorities. If you don’t know what you’re about, you can end up dithering around, getting sucked into this and that. So you do too much and you do the wrong things and you feel resentful. You waste your energy, constantly feel overwhelmed, and ultimately end up being stretched so thinly that you aren’t doing good work and feel frustrated and taken advantage of. Which leads me to the last point.

5) You feel helpless. Maybe you feel like an insignificant cog in a vast and unfeeling bureaucratic machine. Maybe your boss doesn’t listen to you. Maybe you feel trapped by the contents of your resume and family or financial demands. You feel stuck. It’s hard to feel energized about work when you don’t feel like you choose to be there of your own free will. But hello! You are choosing to be there! So many of us abdicate our own personal power in the workplace. But it is a lie that we are helpless. We always have a choice. And sometimes hard choices spark creativity. Sometimes unexpected voices are what every organizations need to hear, to prosper. So don’t throw away control – act like you own the place.

No matter what job type or level in an organization,  you have the power to choose to be happy and engaged at work or not. Not that it’s easy. The problem is that collectively we have failed to prioritize the things that make for happy humans. We have even inadvertently engineered workplaces to squeeze out both humanity and happiness. Thankfully, the tide appears to be turning. We are beginning to realize that we can be highly – no, wildly! – successful and simultaneously happy in our work. We have to make choices as individuals, and as individual leaders, to promote well-being, not as a perk but as a strategy.


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